Article for Daily Express ("We cannot prosper with dud cheques")
|Document type:||public statement|
|Source:||Daily Express, 1 May 1979|
|Editorial comments:||Item listed by date of publication. Reproduced with permission of Express Newspapers plc.|
|Themes:||General Elections, Religion/Morality, Public spending and borrowing, Labour Party and Socialism, Monetary policy, Economy (general discussions), Privatised and state industries, Industry, Conservatism|
Tory or Labour—right or left? With two days to go, the main party leaders write exclusively in the Daily Express
WE CANNOT PROSPER WITH DUD CHEQUES
One of the fascinations of public life, and one of the chief reasons why I am happy and proud to be in politics, is that it forces one to think very hard about the right balance between idealism and common sense.
"Man does not live by bread alone." No indeed. A political party which appeals only to the material self-interest of the voters is a miserable thing.
And it would not prosper in Britain, the country which ended the slave trade, which invented the Welfare State, and which has a long and honourable tradition in international affairs.
We expect our Governments to be honest, high-minded and humane.
But idealism is not enough. Translating ideals into practice nearly always costs money. That money has to be earned by somebody—and it can only be earned by creating wealth.
It's no good a Government ordering better schools, more hospitals and welfare services, higher pensions, help for home-buyers, overseas aid and all the other worthwhile causes, unless it is also practical about paying for them.
There's no merit in being generous at somebody else's expense. And parading your ideals without knowing how to pay for them is sheer hypocrisy.[fo 1]
That's where Labour tends to go wrong. They have got a great many very expensive ideas. Labour Cabinet Ministers, and still more the noisy militants prodding them on from behind, have a gigantic appetite for public spending.
Three years ago, Michael Foot told a trade union conference: "It's no good saying to me in this Labour Government that we are opposed to public expenditure—because this Government over the past two and a half years, in spite of our difficulties, has increased public spending proportionately more than any previous government in our history."
This was a silly boast to make in the first place. What made it downright immoral was that, even as these words were spoken, the Government was tottering towards bankruptcy.
Not long afterwards, Labour Ministers were forced to go on their knees to the bankers of the International Monetary Fund, and beg for loans to pay for their high-minded profligacy.
Many of those debts are not paid off even yet.
You may not remember the details of that humiliating episode. But I do—they are etched on my memory. I recall saying to myself at the time: "If ever I am head of a British Government, there is no way in which I am going to land us in such a shameful mess. Anything rather than that."
I was brought up to believe it was unforgivable to acquire debts you can't repay, and dishonest to make promises you can only keep at other people's expense. To my mind, there is no essential difference between that old-fashioned family morality and the way in which Governments ought to conduct business.
That is the policy of my party, too. We believe in thinking hard about creating wealth, before getting down to the more agreeable task of spending it. To us, the only honest idealism is based on wealth we are already creating. We don't finance our ideals with dud cheques.
No doubt the Labour leaders would like to do the honest thing, too. Their difficulty is that they genuinely do not know how wealth is really created. They are obsessed by the belief that wealth flows from the State, and that if the State only pumps enough money into a business it will flourish.
So when the first dollop of aid fails, they supply another, bigger one. They are continually reinforcing failure.
Tories, by contrast, know that the business of wealth-creation is essentially a human process. It is based on the ideas of individual men and women, their skills, energy and inventiveness—and the sheer risk-taking courage—with which they turn those ideas into factories, providing genuine jobs.
Real economic growth occurs when a small business is original and efficient enough to turn itself into a medium-sized business; and when a medium-sized business, by mastering the techniques of mass-production and marketing expands into a big one.
That's when the new jobs mount up, and the new wealth accumulates.
Tories know that the inventive go-getters don't want State handouts. The best way a government can promote growth is to provide fair rules for trading, sensible laws for the employment and rights of labour, a tax-system which rewards industry and encourages saving, and above all an atmosphere in which the individual feels free to dare and to innovate.
The rest can be left to the astonishing ingenuity of the liberated human spirit.
You can put it another way. Labour believes that wealth is created by investing in ideology. We know it's created by people putting their own ideas to the test.
And, when you come to think of it, putting your trust in people, in their resourcefulness and originality, is not just common sense, not just worldly wisdom—it's a form of idealism in itself. That is why I say public life is such an absorbing field, because there are times when idealism and practicality merge together into sound policy.
This is one of them. Tories propose to combine the practical business of creating new wealth with the moral purpose of giving every individual the maximum opportunity to realise his or her potential. And, with the extra resources thereby produced, we can honestly and prudently improve our welfare services and fulfil our international duties.
To coin a proverb, a country which trusts the talent of its people makes a sound investment. I say to the voters: We trust you—trust us.